Ninfa is a garden that had always had a legendary pull for me. I finally made my pilgrimage in spring 2016 while photographing nearby Torrecchia with photographer Eva Nemeth, and it didn't disappoint. It is one of the most romantic, mysterious and beautiful gardens I have been to, although you have to pick your moment to visit as it is overrun with visitors much of the time. Built around the ruins of a long-abandoned medieval village at the foot of the Appenine hills, the garden was started in the 1920s by various members of the Caetani family, who have owned the fortifed village since 1297.
The river Ninfa flows through the garden with small springs and streams feeding into it, icy cold and crystal clear. Old roses and wisteria clamber up the ruins, casting scent into the air, lizards play on the walls. The garden has the air of a lost, secret garden, verging on the wild, but as curator Lauro Marchetti explains, it is a fine balance between history, garden and nature. 'It's difficult to maintain, nature tries to take over. The garden is meant to seem spontaneous but it needs careful management'.
Lauro has lived here since he was seven years old. His father farmed the neighbouring land, and as boy, Lauro was taken under the wing of Lelia Caetani, who taught him about the garden, and how to look after it. Since 1991 he has been curator, and now his son David is following in his footseps.
Lauro told us amazing stories as we wandered around; about the visitors that came here in the 1930s and 40s when Margherite Caetani lived here. A patron of arts and TS Eliot's cousin, she invited a host of famous writers here for a weekend of inspiration, including Truman Capote and Virginia Woolf. He also told the story of a WW2 pilot who hid in the ruins here for several weeks at the end of the war. The stories added to the atmosphere of this magical place and made it come alive.